Clinton's follies should have been predictable

Posted: Jan 18, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- As the Bushes ride in and the Clintons ride out, I look back on the past eight years and marvel at how obvious it all was. Oh I know, many in the media still cannot believe Bill Clinton's follies. Having witnessed the roisterous shambles, many still resort to arcane explanations: " a political master -- the greatest politician of his time;" "blessed by the enemies he makes;" "a mixed record -- so much good but then so much left undone"; "a policy genius"! Still, as I look back on the sheer smallness of the man and on his multitudinous abuses of power -- bombing an aspirin factory! Smearing dismissed White House employees! Renting out the Lincoln bedroom! -- I am struck by how easy it was to anticipate his shabby record. Is it, likewise, obvious how GWB will perform? I should perhaps now admit that I had a plant in the Clintons' entourage years ago, back when the Boy Governor was only a problem for the social and political life of a rural, backward state. Thus when in 1992 Phil Donohue had me on his television show with David Gergen and another commentator now lost to memory (was it Chris Matthews?) and he asked my expectations for Clinton, I had an unfair advantage. I told Phil and his audience that the boyish Democratic candidate "has more skeletons in his closet than a grave robber." From my source I had heard that, though Gov. Clinton and his wife were very ambitious for national office, Mrs. Clinton feared that her husband's propensity for trouble (and her own?) would make the presidency unattainable. Consequently, when a historic fluke allowed the Clintons to enter the White House, they arrived with more insecurities than was understood at the time or is understood by much of the commentariat even to this day. The fluke that allowed the Clinton presidency is another matter rarely noted. In early 1991, when all the likely Democratic presidential contenders were meditating upon their chances for success, President George Bush, the Napoleon of the Gulf War, had a favorable rating of 90 percent. Thus, only the foolhardy and the has-beens entered the Democratic primaries. A brief and shallow economic downturn, a yearning for change from 12 years of Republican governance (remember boredom's role as an agent of history) and a weak campaign by the incumbent relinquished the White House to a candidate whom I believe even his most slavish fans now recognize as foolhardy. Today, George Stephanopoulos and other members of Clinton's political team from 1992 admit that one of the reasons for their early insecurity at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was their inexperience (an admission that puts me in mind of President Jimmy Carter's early team of greenhorns). Yet the deeper reason for the administration's insecurity was the Clintons' recent past in Arkansas and the proclivities they brought to the White House, for instance her temper tantrums, his waywardness, their perfidy. The historically unprecedented problems they had with the White House staff surprised Washington. More surprising still was the immediate freeze the Clintons put on relations with the Washington press corps. One would have thought that they would be as chummy with the press as the Kennedys. After all, they were the liberals' hope. What is more, the press corps had agreeably swallowed more bull during the recent campaign than any press corps in American memory. Yet perhaps now even the Washington press corps will understand the unanticipated cold shoulder. The Clintons had good reason to fear revelations about how they lived. They had good reason to bring in as many Arkansas cronies as were reliable. I knew some of their cronies from back in Arkansas. That made the revelations my colleagues and I at The American Spectator published more accessible and less astounding -- at least to me. Which brings us to the Bushes. Should it now be obvious to us how their administration will go? The incoming president's misbehavior has been widely publicized, but it seems to have ended long ago. It appears he will be steady and conventional. Most of his Cabinet appointees are well known. What could be surprising about any of them? Most have been in public life for years. They are pretty much conservative. The Democrats and their allies call this "extreme conservatism," but most sober observers realize that the term is a slur lodged against a point of view that has governed America successfully since 1980 and whose polices were resorted to even by the Clintons. If that sober point of view suddenly becomes cause for hysteria in the press, remember this is the same press that is still struggling to comprehend a Bill Clinton who was plainly visible in 1992 when Gennifer Flowers' tapes were first heard and his impudent letter on the military draft surfaced.